Editorial: Ayotte Is on Board; Senator Supports Immigration Reform

The so-called Gang of Eight plan to improve the U.S. immigration system isn’t perfect. There are amendments in the works that could make it less perfect still. But the hard-fought compromise is better than the cruelly dysfunctional “system” now in place. That’s why Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s announcement that she would support the proposal was welcome news indeed.

The bill is a “tough but fair way” for the nation’s estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants to come “out of the shadows” and “earn citizenship — go to the back of the line, pay taxes, pass a criminal background check, learn English,” Ayotte said on CBS’s Face the Nation talk show.

She rightly described the status quo as “broken” and “unworthy of a great nation.” Ayotte’s announcement makes her one of the first Republicans outside of the authors of the bill to publicly support it.

The bill in question — sponsored by four Democratic senators and four Republicans — seeks to solve several of the most vexing challenges posed by immigration. It would offer a 13-year pathway to citizenship for the immigrants living in the country illegally. It would expand the number of visas available for high-tech workers. And it would create a low-skilled guest-worker program, which would be of particular benefit to New Hampshire apple growers and ski areas, both of which have relied on foreign workers but struggled in recent years with the bureaucracy that makes such arrangements difficult to set up.

The immigration bill also sets border security goals that must be met before immigrants living here illegally could be granted any change in status. As part of that effort, the Department of Homeland Security would receive $3 billion for surveillance drones and 3,500 additional customs agents and $1.5 billion for fencing.

Already some Republicans in the Senate are complaining that the border rules must be toughened even further before any undocumented immigrants could be offered a chance to work toward legal status — and some are contemplating amendments so tough as to make it impossible for any of the 11 million to ever remedy their situation. Such efforts are actually an attempt to scuttle the legislation and must be opposed.

Another point of contention is the earned-income tax credit. Some Republicans argue that immigrants legalized under the bill should not qualify for the credit — a notion both unfair and cruel. Many illegal immigrants live in poverty or worse. And to qualify for green cards and citizenship under the proposal, they would have to pay substantial financial penalties. The tax credit is a proven way to lift families out of poverty; new citizens should be just as eligible as anyone else.

And there are, inevitably, those who will see any attempt to grapple with this issue as a sell-out, or worse. Already a local blogger castigated Ayotte thusly: “Sadly, Senator Ayotte will join Senator (Jeanne) Shaheen in stabbing New Hampshire and U.S. citizens in the back by supporting amnesty for illegal aliens.” Nonsense. Washington has ducked the immigration mess for too long.

The bill already has the support of President Obama, the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. In the coming weeks, Ayotte should encourage her GOP colleagues to join them.

Concord Monitor